Fouaad Mirza will become the first Indian to participate in an equestrian event at the Olympics for the first time in over 20 years.
After Indrajit Lamba at the 1996 Atlanta Games and Imtiaz Anees at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Fouaad Mirza will become the third equestrian to represent India at the Olympics. Mirza created history in 2019 when he topped his South East Asia, Oceania group in the Individual event category to book a quota for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Bengaluru-born Fouaad had horse riding in his genes. Dr Hasneyn Mirza, his father, an equestrian veterinarian, is a sixth-generation horseman. He passed on his love for the horses to his sons, Fouaad and Aly Asker.
“I used to work on a stud farm, it was a family concern and we had some partners. Both Aly Asker (his eldest son) and Fouaad grew up spending a lot of time around the horses on the farm. I am a sixth-generation horseman, my father was an Army Officer in the 61st Cavalry, and commanded the President’s Body Guard,” Dr Hasneyn Mirza told Sportskeeda.
And the contribution of Dr Mirza was integral in Fouaad’s journey to becoming India’s finest equestrian. Talking to Sportskeeda about the sort of advice he’s been getting from his father, Fouaad said: “I am very, very lucky to have a father who has been supportive towards my sports since the first day. The knowledge he passed onto me and is still passing has stood me in good stead in Germany. He has taught me a lot about management, keeping horses healthy and fit. I have learnt so much from my dad, especially at this time when we have a serious virus outbreak.”
Mirza has been in some good company for the past few years. The 29-year-old has been training in Bergedorf, North-West Germany, under the tutelage of German equestrian legend Sandra Auffarth. The 34-year-old German has won individual and team laurels throughout her illustrious career. Sandra won a gold (team) and a bronze (individual) at the 2012 London Games, and four years later in Rio, she won silver (team). Auffarth also won two gold medals (team and individual) at the World Equestrian Games and four more medals (team and individual) at the European Championships.
Under this association, Fouaad ended India’s 36-year wait for an equestrian medal at the Asian Games by winning silver medals (team and individual) at the 2018 Asian Games. The now 29-year-old scored 34 points on his horse Fernhill Facetime and 30 points on his second horse Touchingwood.
“The 2018 medals really boosted people’s confidence to pursue the sport back at home. We are still at the grassroots and I think people still need to know more about the sport before they can really support me like they support their cricket team,” Mirza told fei.org.
Although Mirza sealed the quota spot for Tokyo Olympics by topping his South East Asia, Oceania group in 2019, he had to wait a little longer as he was short of the Minimum Eligibility Requirement (MER) on both his horses – Seigneur Medicott and Dajara. The situation was further not helped by the fact that there was an Equine Herpes Virus (EVH-1) outbreak earlier this year. Due to this, all events were cancelled till April, which meant Mirza had to wait a little longer to confirm his Tokyo Olympics berth.
“Ideally I would have liked to complete my MER earlier this year but because of the EVH, it was pretty much left to the last minute, which didn’t help with the pressure, of course,” Fouaad told ESPN in an interview.
“But look, it’s worked out in our favour. We are going to have a couple of weeks of rest now and then crack on with our training. Before heading to Tokyo, we’d like to get into one more competition hopefully, so I’ll have to take a look at the schedule and see when we can fit it in.”
Indeed, it worked out in their favour. Mirza’s much-loved horse, Seigneur Medicott, was laid low by injury two years ago, but recovered in time to come good in Baborowka, Poland. Mirza’s exploits in Poland helped secure his individual Tokyo berth. Backed by Embassy International Riding School Bangalore (EIRS), Mirza finished second with Seigneur Medicott and finished third with Dajara in the CCI44* Long eventing competition.
Talking to Sportskeeda ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, when asked about the pressure of being the first equestrian in 20 years to represent India at the Olympics, the 29-year-old said, “Not at all! I think we are a talented nation when it comes to this sport. Hopefully, this paves the way for many other equestrians to follow behind me.
“One day I would love to stand together with them on the podium. This is something that I have wanted to do since day one. I love to compete, I love animals, and I love being around them. I would enjoy it more rather than feel the pressure. Obviously there is a lot of hope from me. I am sure I will enjoy myself and really do what I love to do and the way I do it. The rest will be history.”
On Thursday, Faouaad said that he chose Dajara as his equine partner for the Tokyo Olympics. Sponsored by Embassy Group, he had qualified two horses – Seigneur Medicott and Dajara – for the Olympics. “It was a difficult decision to make as both horses are really good. However, at the Olympics, we have two rounds of show jumping after cross-country, which is Medicott’s weak link. That was the main reason why we chose Dajara,” Mirza said at a media interaction.
A veterinary doctor, an equine psychologist and a groom will accompany Dajara to Tokyo.